By Carolyn Knight

On Jan. 20 the Department of Education announced plans to cut $27 million in funding to foreign language programs around the country. The money comes from the now defunct Foreign Language Assistance Program (FLAP), which doled out three- or five-year grants to charter schools, school districts and states.

Martha Abbott, director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language (ACTFA) said, “What this cut does is pull the rug out from these programs.”

The cut comes as a huge blow to an increasing interest in Chinese and Japanese studies among students. According to ACTFA, the number of K-12 students enrolled in Mandarin Chinese and Japanese classes tripled between the 2004-2005 school year and the 2007-2008 school year.

Studies have shown that students who took four years of foreign language scored more than 100 points higher on each section of the SAT than those who spent one semester or less in a foreign language class. Yet the causes for concern don’t stop there. According to Abbott, the trend toward globalization requires students be familiar and comfortable with other cultures and languages.

“We need to be growing students who can interact around the world,” Abbott said. “If we continue to grow a citizenry that is uncomfortable interacting and can’t get out there on the global stage, then we’re going to find ourselves in significant trouble in the world economy and the future.”

It seems logical to expect that online foreign language education programs like Rosetta Stone will see an upturn in business as a result of these cuts. That program and others like it use images paired with words to teach language. Rosetta Stone claims that this imitates the way human beings first learn language as a toddler. The program has been good enough for the U.S. Army and State Department to use as a foundational tool for people who will be deployed to a foreign area.

LiveMocha is another popular site that offers online language courses for 35 languages to 11 million members of more than 196 nationalities. The site uses social techniques such as chat rooms and profiles to teach language to its members. The site offers beginner and intermediate courses that utilize writing, speaking and listening exercises. Each member is able to edit and give pointers to those who are learning their language.

While the cuts to FLAP are certainly alarming, all hope is not necessarily lost. Online and digital classes are proof that just because the budgets are being cut and spending is being scaled back, foreign language education is still available to those who want to learn. It will be interesting to see how those who are eager to learn a new language react to these cuts.

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